The Importance of Eating More, Smaller Meals
Eating more, smaller meals are important to your body’s health and weight management. Large meals burden the digestive system. This causes bloating and lowered energy levels while it focuses on digestion. Think of it as gridlock for the systems of the body. Everything is focused on that bottle neck, the digestive system, so nothing else can flow easily.
Large meals also cause bigger crashes. Those crashes, as we’ll explain in a bit, trigger the need to eat whatever you can get your hands on. That usually means sugar-laced convenience foods.
The body is an efficient machine. Regular grazing, eating small meals every 3-4 hours, can allow you to have healthier, more nutrient-rich meals than those who stick with three (or less) larger meals per day.
There are a few factors that prove this theory:
The Time Factor
The longer you wait between meals, the hungrier you get. That hunger will likely make you overeat. Here’s something you may not know. When you are hungry, your stomach produces the hormone ghrelin. It’s a hormone that increases appetite and has a negative effect on both decision making and impulse control. In the long-term, this can make genetic changes to your brain circuits that are linked to impulsivity and decision making. In the short-term, this means you grab whatever food is available and eat until you’re satisfied. Don’t think this impulse control issue is restricted to eating. This affects all your decision making abilities. Ever miss lunch and then make an impulse decision you regretted later? Ghrelin may have been the reason. Don’t skip meals.
The Blood Sugar Factor
It takes four hours to digest whatever you’ve eaten. Three hours into that digestion (or three hours after you’ve eaten) your blood sugar levels begin to fall. At five hours, your blood sugar will plummet and people tend to grab whatever food they have on hand.
This alone would be enough to push the importance of breakfast. You’ve gone 6+ hours without energy, and you need that energy to keep your mind and body going. Skipping breakfast to “lose weight” is like not adding gas to your car to keep it “light”. That fuel is essential to your body’s processes.
The Nutrient Factor
Keeping a steady flow of nutrients to the body and brain will prevent overeating. Calcium and magnesium are prime factors in sugar and salt cravings. Stress and eating too much sugar can deplete both of these nutrients. This causes you to crave food. If you’ve ever been a stress-eater, you now know why it’s happened. B vitamins like B1 and B5 are essential to adrenal gland function while B6 and B9 help regulate mood and help you feel good. Stress, lack of sleep, and more can cause these levels to plummet. This can also cause you to overeat.
Zinc is an unusual nutrient. As we age, we’re prone to deficiencies in zinc. Unlike magnesium, calcium, and the B vitamins mentioned above, zinc doesn’t cause you to crave foods. Instead, it makes food taste bland. Since it dulls your sense of taste, you’ll be more likely to add extra salt, sugar, and other seasonings to foods. This can also make you crave salty or sugary foods more often.
What about those food-specific cravings? Low iron causes a craving for meat, or protein in general. Being low in Omega-3s can cause massive cheese cravings. EPA and DHA are the best ones for taking care of those cravings. The plant-based ALA isn’t as effective. If you’ve craved chocolate, magnesium deficiencies are usually to blame.
Do you find yourself overeating, or facing constant cravings of different foods? Keep a food diary for a few weeks to see if you notice any trends. Do you always crave salty foods at night? When do you get hungry? Do you try to push through it until “meal time”? If so, why not adapt your meal plan to that time?
Start with eating breakfast. Choose a nutrient-rich food choice. Then continue eating every 3-4 hours with small, nutrition fortified (and tasty, too!) meals. Choose meals that are protein and fiber rich to fill you up. Make sure you create a set of snacks that you can grab on-the-go. You want to reach for the smart choice if you do get hungry, since you may face struggles with decision-making. Change isn’t easy, but it’s worth it for your mind, body, and health.